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Full text of "Sketch of the Hon. John Howe Peyton, of Staunton, Va."

Hon. John Howe Pevton 



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mon. SoDn Ij^olne l^e^ton* 



SKETCH 



HON. JOHN HOWE PEYTON, 



OF STAUNTON, VA. 



Br COL. J. T. L. PRESTON, 

Profesisor of Modern Languages, &c., in the Virginia Military Institute, 
Lexington, Va. 



BOSTON. 

DAVID CLAPP & SON, 
504 Washington Street. 

18 8 1. 



:2- ^ 37 






Reprinted from the Nkw England Historical and Genealogical Register for Jan. 1881. 



V 



jV* 



SKETCH 



HON. JOHN HOWE PEYTON. 



^ 



^5 

^F'^HE late John H. Peyton, Esq., of Staunton, Va., was one of the 

<> A finest specimens that we have ever known of the complete laio- 

2/er. During the prime of life he pursued his profession with a 

'f^laborious assiduity rarely equalled, and thouoh as age advanced 

^ upon him he remitted his efforts, he did not discontinue his prac- 

ice until a short time before his death, which occurred April 3, 

1847, in the GOtli year of his age. None of his contemporaries 

secured a more ample reward in either reputation or pecuniary 

emolument. 

We have spoken of Mr. Peyton as a complete lawyer. Law, 
^as a practical profession, has several departments, and it is not un- 
usual to see a lawyer distinguished in some of them, with a com- 
pensating deficiency in others. Some practitioners are successful 
L) collectors ; some are much esteemed as judicious advisers in matters 
N. not strictly legal ; some are favorite advocates, with a subdivision 
^ into those who are influential with the court, and those who are per- 
suasive before a jury; some are designated good judges of law, or, 
"^in other words, safe counsellors, and of some the forte is Common 
, Law Practice, while others are distinguished as chancery lawyers. 
^ The oi-ganization of the courts in Virginia, and the nature of the 
I business, at least in the interior, requires every lawyer to enter 
^ upon the whole of this miscelhmeous practice ; and it is not to be 
wondered at that some, even good lawyers, are not equally strong 
in every part. Mr. Peyton knew every part of his profession tho- 
roughly. He had studied diligently as a student ; he had known 
the expectant struggles of the young practitioner ; he had practised 



under the old system before the reorganization of the judiciary, and 
afterwards under the new ; he had met in contest the strongest men 
in each department of the profession, and he had made himself a 
cliampion in all. We may add that some lawyers who exhibit the 
highest skill in securing the rights of their clients, are foolisidy ig- 
norant of their own ; in other words, they let slip the fair, well 
earned profits of their profession — not so with Mr. Peyton. He 
knew the value of his professional services ; he gave them to the 
fullest extent to those who applied for them, and then he insisted 
upon just remuneration. We notice this point, not at random, but 
to present a feature belonging to the character of the complete 
lawyer. 

The characteristic of Mr. Peyton's life was efficiency. This effi- 
ciency had for its elements native vigor of intellect, great resolute- 
ness of character and courageous self-confidence, amj)le and thorougli 
acquirements and the quickness, precision and dexterity of action 
that belong only to those wlio have been taught by a varied experi- 
ence to understand thoroughly human nature. . In conversation Mr. 
Peyton was ready, entertaining and instructive. But conversation 
was not his forte, though he was fond of it. He was not fluent, 
his manner was sometimes too direct for the highest style of polished 
social intercourse of a general nature, and besides he had a remarka- 
ble way of indulging in a strain of covert satirical banter, when his 
words would be so much at variance with the expression of iiis coun- 
tenance, and particularly with the expression of his mouth, that the 
hearer was often in an uncomfortable state of uncertainty how to 
take him. His person was large, and his bearing dignified but not 
graceful. His manner was imaffected, but not without formality, 
nor was it perfectly conciliatory. Some styled him aristocratic, 
while none could deny that iiis self-respect and confident energy 
gave an inq^erious cast to his demeanor. We have oftener than 
once thought applicable to him, in a general way, tliose lines of 
Terence : 

" Ellum, confidens, catus, 
Cam faciem videas. videtur esse quantivis preti. 
Tristis sevei-itas iiietst in voltu, atqiie in verbis fides." 

His voice was true and clear, and capable of sufficient variety, 
but without a single musical intonation, and a little sharper than 
you would expect to hear from a man of his size and form. If it is 
asked what was the style of his speaking, it may be replied — just what 
might be expected to belong to such a man as he lias been described, 
that is to say, never was tiie speaker a more complete reflection of 
the man than in his case. We cannot believe tliat any one who 
knew him was ever surprised when they heard him speak ; what he 
said was just what they would expect him to say. This is often the 
case with speakers and writers, but not always. Energy, reality 
and efficiency were his characteristics as a man, and equally so as a 



speaker. Distinctness of conception lay at the foundation of his excel- 
lence. Some great speakers, some even preeminently great speak- 
ers, not unfrequently hurl unforged thunderbolts. They feel the 
maddening impulse of the god, but give forth their utterances be- 
fore the true prophetic fury comes on. 

Mr. Peyton's mind was no sybil's cave, whence came forth wind- 
driven leaves inscribed with mighty thouglits disposed by chance, 
but a spacious'castle, from whose wide open jjortal issued men at 
arms, orderly arranged. He had hardly opened his case, when the 
hearer was aware that he had thought over the whole of it, had a 
given course to pursue, and would close when he came to the end 
of it. This distinctness of conception comprehended the subject as 
a whole, and shed its light upon each detail belonging to it. This 
ensured the most perfect method in all that he said. Before he 
began to speak he had determined in his own mind, not only the 
order of tlie different parts of his discourse, but also their relative 
importance in producing the general impression. Hence he was 
never led away by the tempting ciiaracter of any peculiar topic, to 
expatiate upon it unduly ; he did not take up matter irrelevant to 
the case because it might touch himself personally ; he never spoke 
for those behind the bar, nor did he neglect to secure the fruits of 
victory in order to pursue an adversary to utter discomfiture. He 
spoke as a lawyer, he spoke for tiie verdict, and expected to gain 
it by showing that he was entitled to it. Some speakers hope 
to accomplish their object by single, or at least, successive 
impulses — now a clinching argumentative question, now a burst 
of brilliant declamation, and now a piece of keen wit, or a 
rough personality. Such speakers forget, or do not know, that a 
jury may admire, may be diverted, and even moved, without being 
won. He that gains the verdict must mould, and sway, and lead, 
and this is to be effected by continued persistent pressure, rather 
than by tours de force. This Mr. Peyton knew well, and observed 
it with perfect self-command. His hearers came away satisfied with 
the whole, rather than treasuring up remarkable points and pas- 
sages. Let it not be supposed, however, that he was a cold speak- 
er, who treated men as mere intellectual machines, to be set in mo- 
tion by the pulleys, screws and levers of logic. Far from it ; he 
understood human nature well, and knew the motive power of the 
feelings ; but then he knew, too, that the way to excite the most 
effective sympathy is not to make a loud outcry, but to make a 
forcible exhibition of real suffering — that the best way to rouse 
our indignation against fraud, deceit, or oppression, is not to exhort 
us to hate it, but to show its hatefulness. One of his most distin- 
guished cotemporai'ies upon the same circuit was celebrated for his 
powers as a criminal advocate ; his manner was obviously upon 
the pathetic order, and perhaps a trifle too declamatory. We have 
seen them in the same cause, and have thought that if the eloquence 



6 

of Gen. Briscoe G. Baldwin flushed the countenance quicker, 
the earnestness of Mr. Peyton stirred the heart deeper. Of the 
oratory of a chiss of speakers by no means rare (not, however, in- 
cluding in their class the distinguished jurist above alluded to), it 
has been well said, "declamation roars while passion sleeps;" of 
speaking justly characterized by this line, Mr. Peyton's was the 
precise reverse. With him thought became passionate before the 
expression became glowing, as the wave swells before it crests itself 
with foam. 

Mr. Peyton's language was forcible, pure and idiomatic. It 
served well the vehicle of his thoughts, but contributed nothing to 
them. There is a real and legitimate advantage belonging to'^the 
masterly use of words, of which many great speakers know well 
how to avail themselves. 

Mr. Peyton attempted nothing of the sort. His diction was 
thoroughly English, witii a marked preference for the Anglo-Saxon 
branch of the language, and his sentences came out in the most 
natural order with unusual clearness and vigor, but not unfrequently 
with a plainness that bordered upon homeliness. His style, how- 
ever, vva>. always that of speaking as distinguisiied from mere con- 
versation — a distinction which some of our modern speakers forget, 
when in order to appear at their ease, they treat with no little dis- 
regard not only the rules of rhetoric, but^he rules of grammar as 
well, and use words and phrases which are (to take a word from 
the vocabulary we are condemning) nothing better than slang. 
On the contrary, there was in Mr. Peyton's style the fruit of 
early studies and high-bred association, a classical tinge, extreme- 
ly pleasant to the scholar, though perhaps not aijpreciable by those 
for whom he generally spoke. It must not be supposed, from what 
has been said of his excellent method, that he resembled in this re- 
spect some of our able but greatly tedious lawyers, who take up in 
regular succession every possible [)oint in the case, however minute, 
and worry us by officiously offering help where none is needed — so 
far from it he showed his consunniiate skill as well in what he omit- 
ted as in what he handled, and, as a general thing, his speeches were 
shorter in duration, and yet fuller of matter than those of his oppo- 
nent. His use of figurative language was easy and natural, and 
not stinted ; but his figures were always introduced as illustrations 
and not as arguments. It is not unusual to meet with a speaker who 
is unable to enounce distinctly the general principle he wishes to use, 
throw out an illustration to enable himself to pick out the principle 
from it, or at least to give his hearers a chance to do it for them- 
selves ; not so with Mr. Peyton. He held up the torch of illustra- 
tion, not to throw a light forward to guide himself in his own in- 
vestigations, but to enable those following the more readily to tread 
the roivd along with him. He had a very noticeable fondness for 
recurring to tlie jjrimary fundamental principles of morals, and 



doubtless he was restrained, by his practical judiciousness, from in- 
dulging this disposition to the full. One of his favorite books was 
Lord Bacon's Essays, and under other circumstances he might him- 
self have been a distinguished moral essayist. 

As may well be supi)osed, his general strain was grave. The 
high idea he entertained of the dignity of his profession, and the 
earnestness with which he gave himself to it, alil^e precl :ded either 
levity or carelessness. However, he was fully able, quite ready 
upon occasion, to avail himself of a keen wit, that was all the more 
effective because it was dry and sarcastic. It occurs to us to men- 
tion an instance well known to his circuit, not illustrative of his 
severity but his pleasantry. In a criminal prosecution, he, as prose- 
cuting attorney, was opposed by two gentlemen of ability, whose pa- 
thos had been so great as to draw abundant tears from their own eyes. 
One of them, a gentleman who has since filled a distinguished na- 
tional position (Hon. Alexander H. H. Stuart, Secretary of the 
Interior of the United States, 1850-3), was noted for the fiicility 
with which he could cover over his brilliant eloquence with the 
liquid varnish of his tears. On this occasion he had been singularly 
lachrymose, and supported by his colleague in the same way, the 
sensation produced was very considerable. Mr. Peyton commenced 
his reply by regretting the disadvantage the commonwealth labored 
under in being represented by him who was a very poor hand at 
crying, and certainly was not able to cry against two at a time. 
The ludicrousness of the expression completely neutralized the pa- 
thos of his opponents. He was not averse either to a bit of farce 
now and then, as is shown by a story told of him. In a remote 
part of the circuit a lawyer wished to adorn a moving passage of a 
speech he was just rising to make, with an apposite example, and ap- 
plied to Mr. Peyton, setting beside of him, to help him to the name 
of the man in the Bible who would have his pound of flesh. With 
imperturbable gravity he answered Absalom! The effect of thus 
confounding Shakspeare and scripture may be imagined. 

We have said that Mr. Peyton was thoroughly furnished in every 
part of his profession ; in one department his qualifications were 
peculiar and unsurpassed. Without disparagement to others, it 
may be said, we think, that he was the best commonwealth's attor- 
ney in the state of Virginia. He was the lawyer of the common- 
wealth, and he treated the commonwealth as a client, and labored 
for her with the same industry, zeal and fidelity that he manifested 
in behalf of any other client. The oft-quoted mei'ciful maxim of 
the common law, " better that ninety and nine guilty men should 
escape than one innocent man should suffer," he interpreted as a 
caution to respect the rights of the innocent, and not as an injunc- 
tion to clear the guilty, and he labored to reduce the percentage of 
rogues unwhipt of justice as low as possible. With a clearness and 
force rarely equalled would he point out the necessity of punishing 



8 

the guilty in order that the innocent might he safe, thus exhihiting 
tiie ahsolute consistency of" strict justice with true mercy. So sim- 
ply and earnestly would he do this, that he not only bound the con- 
sciences of the jury, but also made them feel that they were indi- 
vidually interested in the faithful execution of the laws. Here his 
clear perception of the moral principles upon which rests the penal 
code, and his fondness for recurring to general principles, stood him 
in great stead. It was delightfid to hear him expatiate upon this 
theme, for upon no other was he more truly clorpicnt. 

Mv. Peyton served at different times in both branches of the leg- 
islature, hut we speak not of him as a politician. Our purpose has 
been solely to exhibit some of the fpialities which made him an emi- 
nent member and ornament of the legal profession. 

To this sketch may appropriately be appended the leading inci- 
dents in the life of Mr. Peyton, and the views entertained of him 
by a few of his cotemporaries, who have reduced them to writing. 
He was born at Stony Hill, Stafford County, Virginia, A{)ril '6, 
1778. After having received the elements of education in Frede- 
ricksburg, he entered the University of New Jersey, Princeton, 
where he was graduated in 1797, and received from that insti- 
tution the degree of A.M. He returned to Virginia and studied 
law under Judge Bushrod Washington, of the Supreme Court 
of the United States. Though pursuing a laborious course of 
legal reading, he continued to cultivate the taste for literature 
with which his parents had inspired him, and soon acquired the 
notice of the able and learned men of Fredericksburg and Rich- 
mond by the extensive and varied knowledge he displayed in his 
conversation. In 1800 he commenced the practice of the law 
at Fredericksburg, and almost immediately obtained an oppor- 
tunity, in defence of a man charged with murder, of exhibiting 
his rare powers as an advocate. New opportunities for distin- 
guishing himself were soon offered, and in the course of two 
years he was in full practice and his services rewarded by a 
handsome income. In 1804 he married Susan, daughter of Wil- 
liam S. JNIadison, a niece of James jNIadison, D.D., Bishop of Vir- 
ginia, and cousin of James Madison, fourth President of the United 
States. In 180(5 he was elected a member of the House of Dele- 
gates from his native county, and served until 1810 with distin- 
guished ability. He entered the legislature as the friend of James 
Madison, and advocated the foreign and domestic policy which after- 
wards guided Mr. Madison's administration as President of the 
United States. From the first he was regarded as a brilliant de- 
bater, and at the end of his first session it was the general opinion 
that he had no superior in the state as a parliamentary orator. Dur- 
in<T his term of service he wrote and pressed to adoption a series of 
resolutions upon the attitude of the state of Pennsylvania with refer- 
ence to an amendment of the constitution of the United States pro- 



vidlng a tribunal for settling disputes between the state and federal 
judiciary. "So able and important," says Judge John H. McCue, 
" were these resolutions, as to attract the attention of the leading 
statesmen of the nation, and to guide every other state in opposing 
the eiforts of Pennsylvanin. In the memorable discussion between 
Daniel Webster and Gen. Hayne of South Carolina, Mr. Webster, 
in his second speech in reply to Hayne, referred to and quoted Mr. 
Peyton's resolutions, and declared that they were so conclusive of 
the question as to admit of no further discussion." [See Webster's 
Works, Vol. III., pp. 352-54.] "Mr. Webster was so much im- 
pressed with Mr. Peyton's ability," continues Judge McCue, "that 
meeting Daniel Sheffey, long one of Virginia's representatives in 
congress, he asked, 

" Do you know Peyton, of Virginia, the author of the resolutions 
])assed by your legislature in 1810, on the subject of the federal and 
state judiciary? " 

"Yes," replied Sheffey, " he is the leader of my circuit." 

" I am not surprised to hear it," rejoined Mr. Webster. 

" No," said Sheifey, " he is a sound lawyer, who unites to vigor- 
ous judgment and sterling ability intense study and vast learning." 

"Is lie a speaker?" inquired Mr. Webster. 

" Not in the popular sense," said Sheffey ; " he is not a floi'id 
speaker, indulges in no meretricious display of rhetoric, but tho- 
roughly armed in tlie strength of his knowledge, research and cul- 
tivated abihty, without effort he possesses gigantic power, and by 
it has risen to the head of the profession. And he is not only a 
great, but a good man." 

" It is a misfortune that such a man had not been sent to Wash- 
ington long ago," said Mr. W . ; " he would have maintained Vir- 
ginia's intellectual supremacy and by his sound statesmanship have 
enhanced her influence." 

In 1809-10 Mr. Peyton removed from Fredericksburg to Staun- 
ton, owing to protracted ill health (he had suffered for years with 
chronic dysentery), and to accept the responsible office of Public 
Prosecutor in the Augusta, Albemarle and Rockbridge district. The 
late Judge Archibald Stuart met Mr. Peyton in Richmond in 1809, 
and was so much struck with his energy and ability, that he not 
only tendered this appointment to him, but persistently urged its 
acceptance. For over thirty years Mr. Peyton discharged the duties 
of this office, and one of his biographers, a former member of the 
Virginia bar, says that " his fixme as a prosecutor of the pleas of 
the commonwealth has never been surpassed, if equalled, in Vii*- 
ginia. On this field he achieved triumphs of the most brilliant 
kind." This writer continues : 

His pride in his profession, and the great principles of right and justice 
underlying it, no less than his inborn contempt for chicanery and fraud, not 
to speak of crime in its grosser forms, combined to make him a " terror to 
2 



10 

evil doers." Some critics, even among the profession, sometimes were dis- 
poned to censure liim as too harsh and unrelenting towards the prisoner at 
the bar. But if every circuit throughout our land possessed at this day so 
able, fearless and conscientious a ])rosecutor as did the Augusta and the sur- 
rounding circuit at that happier day in our history, perhaps we might find 
less cause to deplore the depravation of the public moralswhich so painfully 
marks the present era. 

It would be a halting and very defective sketch of this eminent jurist 
which failed to speak of his striking originality. Negatively speaking, 
there was little or no common-place and hum-drum in his forensic argu- 
ments, his debates in the senate, or his addresses from the hustings to his 
constituents. In a positive sense his speeches, at least on great occasions 
and when his powers were thoroughly roused, rarely failed to be marked 
by some flash of genius. I recall a conversation just after the close of a 
protracted and laborious June term of the Augusta Circuit Court, in which 
the late Judge Lucas P. Thompson and Gen. Briscoe G. Baldwin bore the 
leading parts. The last named was paying generous tribute to Peyton's 
force and originality. Judge Thompson remaiked in substance that he had 
never seen Mr. Peyton go through a cause deeply interesting and moving 
him in which he did not utter some view or sentiment illuminated by geni- 
us, or, at the least, some illustration marked by a bold originality ; and he 
instanced two causes tried at the late term — one a civil suit and a very 
heavy will case, in which he made a novel and scorching application of a 
familiar fable of iEsop. I forbear to give its details, because both the critic 
and his subject lump passed from earth. 

In the same cause three signatures were to be identified and proved — 
that of the testator and also of the two attending witnesses — all three hav- 
ing died since their attestation. Many witnesses were called to prove the 
genuineness of the three names. Opposing counsel sought to badger the 
witnesses by urging them to specify \\\vAt peculiar marks there were in the 
handwriting and signatures,, whereby they could speak so positively as to 
their identity and genuineness. This of course, for the most part, they 
could not do, and in the argument of the cause before the jury, the same 
counsel strove to throw disci edit and contempt upon those witnesses (all men 
of good character) for their failure and inability so to describe the quality and 
peculiar marks in the calligraphy of the signers as to show they were famil- 
iar with their handwriting. In his reply to these sallies of his opponent, Mr. 
Peyton swept away the whole airy fabric b}^ a single happy illustration. 
" Gentlemen," he said, " you have often been assembled in crowds upon 
some public or festive occasion. Your hats have been thrown pell-mell in 
mass with perhaps a hundred other hats, all having a general resemblance. 
Suppose you had attempted to describe your hat to a friend or servant, so 
that he might go and pick it out for j'ou. It has as many points for accu- 
rate description as a written signature — its color, height of crown, width of 
brim, lining, &c. Do you think that friend or servant could by any possi- 
bility have picked out your hat for you? And yet when you went yourself, 
the moment your eye would light upon it you instantly recognize it amongst 
a hundred or five hundred other hats. Familiarity with it lias stamped its 
picture on your mind, and the moment you see it the hat Jills and Jits the 
picture on your mind as perfectly as the same hat fits your head." The 
jury were evidently w^on and gave full credence to the ridiculed witnesses. 

The other instance during the same term (cited by Judge Thompson) 
occurred in the celebrated prosecution of Naaman Roberts for forgery — 
in forging the name of Col. Adam Dickinson to a bond for §600. 



11 

The body of the bond was confessedly the handwriting of the prisoner at 
the bar. That was admitted. The signature was a tolerably successful 
attempt at imitating the peculiar handwriting of Adam Dickinson. But no 
expert could look at the whole paper and fail to see a general resemblance 
between the body of the instrument and the signature, raising a strono- con- 
viction in the mind that both proceeded from the same hand. 

The defence strongly insisted upon excluding the body of the instrument 
from the view of the witness, by covering it with paper, or turning it down, 
and so confining the view to the signature only— upon the familiar doctrine 
of the law of evidence forbidding a comparison of the various handwritings 
of the party, as a ground for an opinion upon the identity or genuineness 
of the disputed writing. And this point was ably and elaborately argued 
by the prisoner's counsel. 

The learned prosecutor met it thus : 

" Gentlemen, this is one entire instrument, not two or more brouo-ht into 
comparison. Let me ask each one of you when you meet your friend, or 
when you meet a stranger, in seeking to identify him, what do you look at? 
Not his nose, though that is the most prominent feature of the human face 
— not at his mouth, his chin, his cheek ; no, you look him straight in the 
eye, so aptly called ' the window of the soul.' You look him in the eye, 
but at the same time you see his whole face. Now put a mask on that face, 
leaving only the eyes visible, as the learned counsel would have you mask 
the face of this bond, leaving you to view only the fatal signature. If that 
human face so masked was the face of your bosom friend, could you for a 
moment identify him, even though permitted to look in at those windows of 
his soul? No, he would be as strange to you as this accursed bond has 
ever been strange to that worthy gentleman. Col. Adam Dickinson, but a 
glance at whose face traces the guilty authorship direct to the prisoner at 
the bar." 

This most striking illustration seemed to thrill the whole audience, as it 
virtually carried the jury. 

Mr. Peyton never was a politician. His taste and predilection lay not 
in that direction. But no man was better informed of the course of pub- 
lic affairs, nor had a keener insight into the character or motives of public 
men. Once, and so far as I knew once only, did he participate in the de- 
bates of a Presidential canvass. It was the memorable one of 1840; and 
the speech was delivered from the Albemarle hustings. His analysis of the 
political character of Martin Van Buren, and his delineation of his public 
career from his desertion of De Witt Clinton down to his obsequious ingra- 
tiation with Andrew Jackson, was incisive and masterly, and all the more 
powerful and impressive because pronounced in a judicial rather than a par- 
tisan temper. Competent judges, long familiar with the very able ha- 
rangues and debates on that rostrum, declared it one of the ablest that had 
been listened to by any Albemarle audience. 

Of his services in the Virginia Senate, I need oidy say, what every one 
would naturally expect, they were most valuable from that enlightened con- 
servatism in the prevention of crude and vicious legislation. Jn the last 
session of his first term in the senate a vigorous effort was made for the 
passage of a stay-law rather than an increase of taxation. 

It hardly needs to be said that he opposed the former and sustained the 
latter measure with all the vigor of his honest and manly nature. Nor could 
he ever have looked with any patience upon that brood of enactments since 



12 

his day — the stay of executions, homestead exemptions, limitations upon sales 
of property, et id omne gemis, professedly passecl in the interest of the poor 
and the laboring man, yet in fact more detrimental to that chiss than to any 
other, and most damaginj^ to the credit of the state abroad. 

Let me say in conclusion that the person and figure of Mr. Peyton were 
fine and commanding. His carriage was always erect, his head well poised 
on his shoulders, while his ample chest gave token of great vitality. On 
rising to address court or jury, there was something more than commonly 
impressive in his peisonal presence, and whether clad in " Virgin!;^ home- 
spun " or English blue broadcloth with gold buttons (and I have often seen 
him in both), whenever you saw him button his coat across his breast and ^ 
slowly raise his spectacles to rest them on the lofty crown, you migiit con- J 
fidently expect an intellectual treat of no mean order. | 

There never was a broader contrast presented in the same person than 
that between Howe Peyton the lawyer, the Public Prosecutor, or even the 
senatorial candidate amongst the people, and the same individual in his own 
liome. Here, in the midst of his family, or surrounded by friends, all the 
rigor of his manner relaxed, and he was the model of an affectionate hus- 
band and father, and the most genial of companions. He was "given to 
hospitality," and there was [jerhaps no mansion in all this favored region 
where it was more generously and elegantly dispensed, through many years, 
than at " Montgomery Hall." 

In tlie war of 1812-15 he served with distinction as major on 
the staff of Gen. Robert Porterfield, and on his return was chosen 
mayor of the city of Staunton, and served till 1817. 

From the ch)se of the war he gave his entire energies to the pro- 
fession. During; this time the distinguishing pccuHarities of his 
intellet't made themselves more manifest. It was observed that 
in all of liis investigations his philosophical mind rose above the 
technicalities of the system of common' law to the consideration of 
general principles, and he was never more eloquent tlian when ex- 
patiating upon those principles whicli lie at the foundation of all 
duty, and are equally applicable to all its forms. 

In 1822 Mr. Peyton manicd his second wife, Ann Montgomery, 
daugliter of Col. John Lewis, of the Sweet Springs, by his wile 
Mary, a daughter of Col. William Preston, of Sniithfield. To her 
warm affection, which was displayed in the care of his only son 
and child by liis first marriage, William Madison Peyton, and as 
the companion of his long life and the mother of a rising family, he 
owed for many years that domestic happiness which was the chief 
solace of his life, and from which he allowed no public honors 
wholly to withdraw him. | 

In 183G he was elected state senator for the Augusta and Rock- ' 
bridge district, and served after a second election till 1845, when he 
resigned the position on account of his declining health. 

He addressed the following letter to his constituents on this 
occasion : 



13 

Fellow Citizens : — The term for which I was elected your senator is 
drawing to a close, and as it is not my intention to become again a candidate 
for your suffrages, I feel it a duty incumbent on me to apprize you of it 
thus early, that you may have full time to select for yourselves a suitable 
successor. 

In taking leave of the district I tender you my grateful acknowledg- 
ments for the distinguished honor which you conferred upon me four years 
ago by electing me to the station I now occupy. Whilst acting in the dis- 
charge of the duties devolved upon me by this elevated trust, it has been 
my anxious desire to promote your immediate interests and the general 
welfare of my native state. That such is the opinion of my constituents I 
have not had the slightest reason to doubt, tjnder such circumstances it 
would be both my pride and pleasure to again serve you were it not for 
my peculiar situation. 

1 have now arrived at that period of life when the quiet and repose of 
the domestic fireside are much better suited to my taste and more conge- 
nial to my feelings than the arena of politics and the strife of parties. Be- 
sides this I have duties to discharge to a young and growing family incom- 
patible with a longer continuance in public life. 

I have felt the less difficulty in coming to this conclusion because I know 
that I can do so without injury to the whig cause or whig principles, in the 
success of which the people of my district feel so deep an interest. Their 
intelligence furnishes ample assurance that my place will be filled wisely 
and judiciously ; and that they will call into their service some one fully 
competent to the discharge of all the high duties of the station, and who 
will devote himself to the furtherance of those great principles and sound 
measures of public policy which in the enlightened judgment of my con- 
stituents lie at the basis of all national prosperity. 

Your fellow citizen, 

John H. Peyton. 

The Eichmond papers and those of the state generally expressed 
their great regrets at his retirement ; the " Whig " of Richmond re- 
marking " that not only the people of his district but of Virginia gen- 
rally would see with profound regret Mr. Peyton's purpose to retire 
from the puhlic councils." "The abstraction," continued the Whig, 
" of his great abilities, large experience, legal and general know- 
ledge, moderation, firmness and courtesy, from any legislative body, 
would be seriously felt ; and where can there be found a man worthy 
to be his successor?" Notwithstanding his declining to be a candi- 
date, the people of the district, unwilling to lose his services, in- 
sisted upon his consenting to serve again, and three candidates who 
had announced themselves, learning that if returned he would serve, 
withdrew from the canvas, and Mr. Peyton was elected without op- 
position. During this term he was prostrated by an attack of paraly- 
sis, and resigned his position as soon as he had sufficiently recovered 
from it to understand its serious nature. 

In 1840 he was one of the Board of Visitors to the U. S. Mili- 
tary Academy at West Point, and wrote the able and instructive 
report of the board for that year. He had previously served on 



14 

several boards, find was for over ten years President of the Court 
of Directors of the Western Virginia Asylum. 

On the first of June, 1844, he resif^med the office of attorney for 
the commonwealth for the county of Augusta, when th'is order was 
made by tlie Court : 

Augusta County Court, 
First «lay of the Juue Term, 1844. 

Joliii Howe Peyton, Esq., wlio has acted as Commonwealth's Attorney 
in tills County for thirty- two years, liaving this day resigned said office, the 
justices of tiie County in full session at tlieir June term, do with unanimous 
consent expiess tlieir high sense of Mr. Peyton's long and valuable ser- 
vices. They add a willing testimony to the distinguished ability, fidelity 
and zeal with which he has guarded the interest of the Commonwealth 
within the lindts of the County, to his impartiality, prudence and firmness 
as a Public Prosecutor, and the commendable courtesy which has marked 
his intercourse with the Court, as becoming a public officer and a represen- 
tative of the Commonwealth. 

And it is the order of the Court that this testimonial, as an additional 
tribute of respect, be spread upon the records. 

Immediately after his resignation he was sworn on the commis- 
sion of the peace, but never took part in the proceedings of the court. 
lie retired to his estate of Montgomery Hall, Augusta county, Va., 
and (lied there on the 27th of April, 1847. It may be truly said of 
him that there was no one in his public or private relations who 
was more loved, more honored, or more mourned by those who 
knew him best. 

He left by his first marriage an only child, the late Col. William 
Madison Peyton, of Roanoke, a man eminent for his talents and 
acquirements, wiio served the state with great advantage to the 
public as delegate in the legislature, as state proxy in the James 
Piver and Kenawha Company, and in other stations. 

By his second marriage he left two sons and eight daughters, who 
have married into the leading families of Virginia. His elder son 
by his second marriage is Col. John Lewis Peyton, ex-Confederate 
States Commissioner to England,* author of " The American 
Crisis, or images from the note-book of a State Agent during the 
Civil War in America;" " Over the AUeghanies and across the 
Prairies,'^ &c. ; and other popular works. 

* The late W. Hepworth Dixon, author of " New Amoricn," etc., and long editor of the 
Atheiimim, said of Cul. J. Lewis Peyton, that " he was the ablest of tiie at)Ie men sent by 
the South to re|)reseut itt< cau.-e in Europe, and though unrecognized by the British gov- 
ernment, he rendered unofficially signal service to his country." Col. Peyton lingered in 
England many years after the war, clieered by the respectful consideration and friendly 
esteem extended towards him by all classes, particularly persons of literature and science, 
and Ills departure for America was regretted as a general loss to societj'. 



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